SAVED! (part 2): Debunking Bounded-Set Theology

This article is part of a series of articles on the topic of salvation.  Click to catch up on the Introduction and Part I.

Also, please take time today to remember the people of Japan in your thoughts and prayers.


To a large extent, the topic of salvation will always remain a mystery.  Life on earth will never be able to articulate the exact details of the afterlife.  But, I believe that there are determinations that we can make.  These are not scientific theories, mind you, where we can run a series of tests and prove a hypothesis.  We can, however, use various elements to establish faith doctrine.  In my own tradition, those elements are Scripture, reason, experience, and tradition.  The use of all four elements together at the very least allows us to think through a subject as completely as possible.  I go into all that to offer this preface: The following ideas are my best thoughts thus far on the subject of salvation.  They are not dogmatic rules, rather illustrations of how I believe the salvation process works based off the four elements listed above.


Most people in Evangelical circles view salvation to work under what has been termed as a Bounded Set model.  Let’s say you take a piece of paper and draw a circle in the center.  That circle serves as a boundary to designate who is going to heaven and who is going to hell.  Thus, many evangelicals will label themselves as “saved” or “unsaved” based on that designation.  Simple enough, right?  This illustration describes it pretty well…

Here’s what’s wrong with this way of looking at the salvation process.  First, although Scripture talks plenty about who will and will not inherit the Kingdom of God, there’s no real consensus among biblical scholars, theologians, and the Church as a whole on where that boundary exactly is.  Even Evangelicals differ on what determines who is in and who is out.  In addition, for some reason people have a whole lot more to say about what makes a person “out” verses how to get in.  Now I don’t think it’s fuzzy necessarily because God is fuzzy about it, but rather because we are all individually complex creatures living in a complicated world.  We rarely fall into one label or another.  For example, a lot of people say they are a “good” person (especially after doing something bad); but what does that mean?  What designates someone to be a good person?  So the same ambiguity can be placed on the label “saved.”  What makes someone saved or not saved?  I don’t know about you, but I’ve met a lot of “unsaved” people that act more Christ-like than some church folk.  Are you saved just because you say so?  I think not.  There has to be some standard out there that all people have to adhere to in order to be “saved,” but what is that standard?  It’s not so black and white.

The second problem I have with the Bounded-Set model is that the focus of salvation becomes the boundary, not God.  Instead of simply following the Great Commandment of loving God and loving neighbor, people run around trying to find out if they’re in or out.  It’s like giving to charity simply for the tax write-off.  You do something to get something back, not because it was the right thing to do in the first place.  I have found the faith to be about living in covenental relationship with God because that’s the best place to be, not simply because of what I can get out of it.  Salvation, then, is the result of that relationship, not the aim of the relationship.  We’re not lobbyists taking a politician out to dinner just to get him to vote on a bill we like.  Salvation can’t be self-serving.

The third problem I have is tied to the second.  With the boundary being the focus, the goal of one’s journey is to simply “get in”.  In other words, people will ultimately ask, “What’s the most I can get out of doing the least.”  If you’re in the boundary, what motivation is there to continue your journey towards deeper connection with God?  This is best illustrated by the festival encounter I told in the Introduction.  People were asking where the boundary of good and bad are so they can just pass over the line without taking serious steps towards deep connection with God.  Yet, as I have said earlier, our faith journey after conversion is important because salvation is not an event in time, but rather a process.  Our journey after conversion matters.  In Scripture, a rich young man asked Jesus how he can inherit eternal life.  Jesus said to sell everything, give it to the poor, and follow him.  In our own quest for some boundary, I think Jesus is saying to forget all that and simply follow him.

“Follow him?”  That sounds kinda vague.  How will I know if I’m saved or not?  That question will be addressed in what I think is a much proper way of illustrating the salvation process, the Center-Set model.  Until the next article, feel free to ask questions or give your comments.


3 thoughts on “SAVED! (part 2): Debunking Bounded-Set Theology

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